The Grifter

Smooth-talking stockbroker Roger Turner came across as a good Christian man--one who made it his business to charm widows and retirees out of their life savings

In 1990, Turner brought Hoffenberg to Dallas to speak at a luncheon seminar for his clients. Abby Abernathy attended and liked what he heard from Hoffenberg. "He was going to do this big Texas hospital renovation program, and [Towers Financial] was buying hospital receivables," recalls Abernathy, who decided to invest money from his grandmother's estate into Towers Financial notes. That the SEC had already started investigating Hoffenberg for one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in the history of Wall Street would have come as news to Abernathy. According to court documents, Royal Alliance refused to approve the sale of Towers Financial notes, but that didn't stop Turner from representing to his clients that he was soliciting their money for those notes.

Abernathy and other Turner clients believed that they were investing in "Towers Financial Corporation Notes"--a registered security traded on the stock exchange. Instead, Turner used some investor funds to purchase something he called "Towers Notes," which became his funding source for MAC (not the New York municipal bond, but the Turner factoring company). With this infusion of cash, MAC could buy the accounts receivable of either Carl A. Johnson and Sons or Physicians Bookkeeping & Billing Inc., yet another Turner company, which he acquired in 1993 from a group of Fort Worth anesthesiologists and renamed HealthTeamm. At the time of purchase, it was a successful medical billing company that processed insurance claims for physicians.

Turner clients such as Palfi and Bennet would later claim they never gave him authorization to make investments in any of his businesses, including investments in Towers notes of any sort. This was easy enough to accomplish where Bonnie Bennet was concerned.

She had surrendered control of her personal finances to Turner, even handing over her checkbook. Often, she would pick up the telephone and call him, asking for spending money--"mad money," as she calls it. And he would oblige her--no problem--sometimes by moving money from another client's account to hers. Court records allege that Turner, after convincing Tommy Smith in 1993 to transfer more than $100,000 from his IRA account with Royal Alliance to Rochdale Investment Management, instead used the funds to pay his corporate and personal expenses, including issuing Bonnie Bennet a check for more than $10,000.

Bennet savored the attention Turner lavished upon her. In the spring of 1994, she was one of an exclusive list of clients invited to Turner's wedding reception in Dallas to celebrate his marriage to Laura. The couple had just returned from Paris, where they exchanged vows in the garden of the palace at Versailles and then spent two weeks honeymooning in Europe. Bennet says she danced with Roger at the reception and remembers how dashing he looked in his white tux and red bow tie; how much Laura seemed to enjoy showing off her 5-carat diamond ring to her guests.

Laura seemed to know how to play Bennet as well, inviting her to her husband's office for coffee and then surprising the octogenarian with a birthday cake. Small wonder Roger was able to move Bennet's money around so freely.

But 1994 was not without its problems for Turner. One of his companies, Carl A. Johnson & Sons, filed for bankruptcy, and HealthTeamm wasn't far behind. Turner had to juggle too many people and enterprises and either mismanaged or neglected his businesses. If the charges in the lawsuit that would later be filed by former client Frank Engle are to be believed, Turner habitually diverted investor funds to both companies in what appeared to be a fraudulent attempt to prop up his crumbling financial network.

Engle, an engineer with General Dynamics, alleges that he met Turner at one of his Financial Strategies for Successful Retirement seminars that was held at the company. On September 20, 1993, Engle gave Turner a check for $25,000 made payable to Annable Turner & Company to purchase Towers Financial, a security that Turner represented was a "corporate-quality bond fund accruing with interest at an annual rate of 10 percent." But Engle claims that Turner didn't purchase any registered securities. Instead he deposited the check to the Annable Turner account, then issued checks to R.E. Turner & Company, Roger Turner, and his lawyer in amounts totaling nearly $23,000. Even though he never purchased the securities, he sent out bogus quarterly reports to Engle showing his investment had not only accrued substantial interest, but had dramatically appreciated in value.

Because of these perceived gains, Engle was only too willing to entrust another $100,000 of his retirement funds to Turner. Although the proceeds were initially invested in high-quality mutual funds, Engle alleges that $45,000 of this money was transferred to what Turner represented was a marketable registered security called MAC Preferred. Engle believed he had purchased the city of New York's municipal bonds (Municipal Assistance Corporation). Instead, the $45,000 was deposited into an account under the name of Manufacturers Acceptance Corporation--an account owned and controlled by Roger and Laura Turner. According to the pleadings, the funds were allegedly then used to pay checks issued to Physicians Billing and Bookkeeping (HealthTeamm) and another "Turner account."

With money in short supply, Turner was having trouble keeping even his most loyal clients happy. Some had already left the fold, fed up with his blue-sky promises and the nonstop excuses for interest checks that bounced or just never seemed to arrive. When others insisted he return their money, Turner graciously acceded to their demands, thanks to those clients who remained unsuspecting.

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